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Guidance on building safety continues to changes and it might be challenging to find all the answers. The most recent laws that have been passed are the Fire Safety Act 2021 and the Building Safety Act 2022, and their impact on the residential property market has been significant.

For this reason, receiving the expert advice of a team of Residential property lawyers is key when navigating such a challenging landscape. With offices in Bradford, Bingley andYeadon, we are here to help all flat buyers.

The Importance of Building Safety

Following the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in Kensington in 2017 and the Hackitt “Building a Safer Future” report from 2018, a new emphasis has been placed on fire safety when building a new flat or investigating an existing property.

The Hackitt report highlighted the following system failures:

  • Guidance on fire safety is often misunderstood and misinterpreted.
  • There is usually a general lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities, as well as ambiguity that can lead to a lack of accountability.
  •  Delivering quality homes cannot simply be done when the market requires those flats to be ready as quickly and cheaply as possible. This can cause a failure in prioritising safety.
  • The size or complexity of some projects can affect the enforcement of safety regulations.

Building Safety Issues to Investigate

When buying or moving to a new flat, buyers should always consider the following:

  • Is this flat a safe place to live?
  • Will you incur any extra costs to make the flat safer?
  • Will the flat’s safety conditions affect its value when selling it?
  • Is there any further safety work that needs to be carried out on other buildings that can affect your use of the flat?
  • Who will pay for the additional work needed to make the building safe, and how much will it cost?
  • How much disruption will be involved?

How to Investigate Safety Issues

Knowing your rights, as a flat buyer, is essential, and you should be aware of any background information since the early stages of the process.

Fire safety engineers and even other flat owners in the same building can be an excellent source of information. Still, you also need to make sure that all correct procedures are in place to ensure the building is safe by the law standard.

Your property solicitor can help you identify the following:

  • The fire risk assessment and EWS1 form (and help you get copies)
  •  Any details about potential government funding for safety works
  • The contact details of the “responsible owner|”, who is usually the owner of the freehold of the whole building and is responsible for its safety.

What are the duties of the “responsible owner”?

The responsible owner must:

  • Implement any action needed to reduce fire risks in the building
  • Carry out a fire risk assessment of the premises
  • Communicate with flat owners in the building about any potential risks
  • Work with relevant agencies and contractors to address and fix any safety concerns as soon as possible
  • Put in place and maintain appropriate fire safety measures

Will building insurance pay any costs to implement and improve fire safety measures?

Building insurance might not automatically cover any costs necessary to improve fire safety in your flat or building. Insurers might raise concerns about the materials used in the construction and whether the relevant legislation has been complied with.

The National House Building Council, as well as other new build warranty providers, might contribute to some of the remediation costs.

You should read the freeholder's insurance policy carefully and ask your solicitor about anything you do not understand.

Getting government grants for building safety measures

According to the Fire Safety Act 2021, leaseholders are primarily responsible for the costs of making buildings safe. Currently, only a few buildings are eligible for the new Building Safety Fund, aimed at supporting the removal of unsafe cladding from dangerous high-rise buildings. In most cases, even if a building has an allocation from a government fund, the amount allocated might not cover the entire costs of the work needed.

If you are unsure whether your building or the flat you are thinking of buying has government funding for any fire safety works, you can ask your solicitors to check and gather all relevant information.

You can find more details about building safety for flat buyers and Eatons’ services in our dedicated building safety brochure. Get in touch to learn more.